Iran began its military involvement in Syria in 2011, at the outbreak of the civil war. Tehran’s immediate objective was to defeat the Syrian opposition militarily to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The maintenance of the Shia-Alawi-dominated regime in Damascus was key to the Islamic Republic’s long-term regional strategy, the creation of a contiguous Shia arc of influence in the region, linking Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. The Syrian theater also witnessed changes to Iran’s traditional use of proxies, militias, and plausible deniability.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force perfected its proxy doctrine during the fight in Syria, using asymmetric units as the main ground force but allowing the use of regular military units as support elements if needed. However, the Quds Force undermined and abandoned its own doctrine when it changed its strategy in Syria as victory over the opposition loomed. It began establishing permanent basing, which made its personnel, including the proxy militiamen, easy targets for Israel. The Quds Force also abandoned the doctrine when IRGC artillery units under its direct command fired rockets at Israeli front positions in the Golan, prompting massive retaliation from Israel against not only Iranian proxies and materiel, but also personnel.
Iran’s insistence on maintaining a major military presence in Syria could well put it on the brink of war on another front—with Israel on Syrian soil and beyond. This report by Scowcroft Center nonresident senior fellow Nader Uskowi explores the possibility for Iranian-Israeli conflict in Syria, as well as the way forward for the various actors involved there.
Wed, Oct 17, 2018
Webcasts by Bryan Mendives
Fri, Dec 14, 2018
Nonresident senior fellow Nader Uskowi talks about his new book, Temperature Rising: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Wars in the Middle East. Uskowi discusses with IranSource the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) inside Iran and the Middle East, what the West is getting wrong about the elite force, and the challenges the IRGC is […]
IranSource by Holly Dagres
Mon, Jun 17, 2019
Russia and Iran are allies in Syria not out of mutual sympathy, but for pragmatic reasons. Iranian leaders were instrumental in convincing Vladimir Putin to send his air force to Syria to support Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, and the two countries cooperate within Syria to this day. However, their various differences highlight the limits of what looks like an alliance of convenience.
Issue Brief by Ambassador Michel Duclos